Blackwater, Afghanistan, and killing people for money
Several weeks ago former Blackwater founder Erik Prince proposed privatizing the entire Afghanistan War in what can only be described as Blackwater 2.0.
The United States should hire a mercenary army to “fix” Afghanistan, a country where we’ve been at war since 2001, spending billions along the way. The big idea here is that they could extricate U.S. soldiers from this quagmire, and somehow solve it.
Not surprisingly, the private-military industry is behind this proposal. Erik D. Prince, a founder of the private military company Blackwater Worldwide, and Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire financier who owns the giant military contractor DynCorp International, each see a role for themselves in this future. Their proposal was offered at the request of Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, and Jared Kushner, his senior adviser and son-in-law, according to people briefed on the conversations.
Besides Bannon and Kushner, Sebastian Gorka, Trump’s deputy assistant for national-security affairs, endorsed the idea.
Since then, California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher announced his strong support for the idea.
Rep. Rohrabacher called this “exactly the right approach,” and told TheDC that Prince’s plan is being considered seriously within the White House.
...“A big problem of course is that the military hates anybody that is not under their command going into a combat area and involving themselves in combat activities,” Rohrabacher, a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said.
Oh, so that's the problem.
I thought the problem was that we are in an unwinnable war, and that historically mercenaries usually make things worse.
"Today, we have mercenaries in Africa, corporate armies from the western world, and unemployed men throughout the Middle East killing their own people - and people of other nations - for a paycheck. To act without a conscience, but for a paycheck, makes anyone a dangerous animal. The devil would be powerless if he couldn't entice people to do his work. So as long as money continues to seduce the hungry, the hopeless, the broken, the greedy, and the needy, there will always be war between brothers.”
― Suzy Kassem
The neocolonial echoes of Prince's venture are unmistakable, and he doesn't shy away from them. In a column published earlier this year in the Wall Street Journal, Prince peddled his vision of mercenary companies on the front lines with an American "viceroy" in Kabul calling the shots. He gestured to the history of Britain's East India Co. in South Asia as a useful precedent, much to the bewilderment of others aware of the company's history of looting, slaughter and exploitation.
Prince renewed his attempts at historical analogy on Tuesday, casting the company as a cost-effective, low-footprint model: "When the East India Company operated for 200-plus years, they deployed with that model," he told MSNBC. "One mentor to 20 local troops."
Prince, aware of how sensitive the White House and Congress is to media influence, has gone on the news show circuit, and it appears to be working.
Trump is said to have been receiving advisement from Prince in the shadows but is now openly contemplating Prince’s proposal despite pushback from Secretary of Defense James Mattis and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, according to USA Today.
“That’s how you tell a merc is dead; he just stops collecting paychecks.”
― Mercedes Lackey, By the Sword
There's a lot to unpack here. So let's start with Prince's claim of a "cost-effective, low-footprint model".
What Prince is outlining is an autonomous force that could operate without accountability either from voters, via their elected representatives, or from the prying concerns of human-rights officials in the government. On Tuesday, Prince added, “This approach would cost less than 20 percent of the $48 billion being spent in Afghanistan this year. Trump was hired to remake our government. There is no greater need for a restructuring than in Afghanistan.”
I don't believe that this is what Trump voters had in mind.
Nevertheless, let's look at the available facts.
In 2009, for example, the Congressional Budget Office found that in wartime, private security costs about the same as the U.S. military.
Next let's examine the performance of Blackwater mercs.
Their shameful, trigger-happy record in Iraq is well-known.
What isn't as well-known is performance of Prince's R2 mercenaries (a company he formed after leaving Blackwater) in Yemen was so bad that they were fired by UAE, and replaced by DynCorp mercs.
Prince then contracted out to "defeat the pirates terrorising the shipping lanes off the Somali coast." Things didn't go well in Somalia either.
"And its fate makes the story of the pirate hunters for hire a case study in the inherent dangers in the outsourced wars in Somalia, where the United States and other countries have relied on proxy forces and armed private contractors to battle pirates and, increasingly, Islamic militants."
So why should we expect something better from Prince this time?
Finally, let's look at Prince's "cost-effective, low-footprint model" - the British East India Company.
The Honourable East India Company (HEIC) was created by royal charter on December 31, 1600, and was given a monopoly on all trade with India. By 1670 King Charles II had granted the HEIC the rights to mint money, employ an army, make war, form alliances, autonomous territorial acquisition, and administer justice in those areas.
The state of Bengal in India was conquered by a corporate mercenary army led by Robert Clive in 1757. The multinational corporation continued to dominate the huge nation until 1858, when it came under direct British rule.
At the time, Bengal was one of the richest nations on Earth.
The company then loaded the contents of the Bengal treasury onto a fleet of 100 boats and sent them downriver to its base in Calcutta.
In one stroke, Robert Clive, who had engineered the victory, netted 2.5 million pounds for the company and 234,000 pounds for himself.
So what did the British East India Company do first? It raised land taxes five-fold - from 10% to 50% of the value of the agricultural production.
All the policies were designed to increase the share price of the company. Company employees were returning to Britain with enormous fortunes.
The most sensible business strategy therefore would be to opt for maximum profit realisation as quickly, as efficiently and as ruthlessly as possible. And so it was that wherever it was possible the planting of cash crops such as indigo and cotton were made compulsory. Likewise, because the raised tax had to be collected in cash and at the point of a bayonet if necessary the hoarding of rice was forbidden, and so with little option this was sold on and a thriving grain market came into being which was of course eventually monopolised by the company.
What were the effects on the state of Bengal? A famine that killed 10 million people - about a third of the population. It was one of the worst, most concentrated famines in human history. It nearly resulted in the extermination of the ancient Bengal culture.
Widespread famine began to appear as early as late 1769, but the Company ignored it because it wasn't effecting profits.
A result of the massive famine was a depopulation and abandonment of agricultural land that returned to the jungle. Because so many children died, the population of Bengal kept decreasing for decades to come. Highwaymen and bandits sprung up and got so bad that Bengal eventually had to be put under martial law. Tax revenue decreased by 14% the following year. In response the company raised the land tax in 1771 to 60%. A logical move when you consider they needed to replace the revenue from millions of people who died.
The resulting depopulation and destabilization of Bengal cut revenue and increased administrative costs for the British East India Company. Their greed and mismanagement not only resulted in millions of people starving, but turned an incredibly profitable company into a money-losing one.
And so in 1772, the British East India Company appealed to the British taxpayers for a bailout.
This provoked a wider credit crisis, forcing the company’s directors to beg the government for a bailout in the summer of 1772. The East India Company’s centrality to Britain’s commercial and imperial ambitions meant that it was the original “too big to fail” corporation.
Normally that would be where the story ends. However, there is a twist.
The bailout resulted in the Regulating Act of 1773. The British government was acknowledged as the sovereign of India and the Company submitted to oversight and regulation, even though it continued to run things in Bengal.
In exchange the British East India Company got greater autonomy in its trade with the American colonies. Specifically this was called the Tea Act of 1773.
You might remember the Tea Act as the cause of the Boston Tea Party.
13 Geo III c. 44, long title An act to allow a drawback of the duties of customs on the exportation of tea to any of his Majesty's colonies or plantations in America; to increase the deposit on bohea tea to be sold at the East India Company's sales; and to empower the commissioners of the treasury to grant licenses to the East India Company to export tea duty-free.
The act allowed the Company to sell tea to the colonies directly without having to pay a royal tax on it. This would undermine the tea smugglers such as John Hancock. In response to the Tea Act the price of tea in Boston actually dropped.
Still reeling from the Hutchinson letters, Bostonians suspected the removal of the Tea Tax was simply another attempt by the British parliament to squash American freedom. Samuel Adams, wealthy smugglers, and others who had profited from the smuggled tea called for agents and consignees of the East India Company tea to abandon their positions; consignees who hesitated were terrorized through attacks on their warehouses and even their homes.
So you see, Bostonians weren't angry about any taxes being imposed on them. They were angry about a huge corporation using its powerful lobby in the halls of government to crush the small businessman via corporate welfare in the form of tax loopholes.
Why that sounds downright leftist to me. Does it to you?
The outraged Bostonians circulated a pamphlet called The Alarm which reminded people of the company's recent record in Bengal.
Are we in like Manner to be given up to the Disposal of the East India Company, who have now the Assurance, to step forth in Aid of the Minister, to execute his Plan, of enslaving America? Their Conduct in Asia, for some Years past, has given simple Proof, how little they regard the Laws of Nations, the Rights, Liberties, or Lives of Men.... Fifteen hundred Thousands, it is said, perished by Famine in one Year, not because the Earth denied its Fruits; but [because] this Company and their Servants engulfed all the Necessaries of Life, and set them at so high a Rate that the poor could not purchase them.
So in a very ironic way, Erik Prince and Donald Trump are bringing us all the way back to pre-Revolutionary America.
Except our government is now the British.